The head of a U.S. government program to fight AIDS, Dr. John Nkengasong, says that in its 20 years of existence the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has saved 25 million lives.
PEPFAR, set up in 2003 under the administration of former U.S. president George W. Bush, has transformed the trajectory of HIV/AIDS, Nkengasong told reporters Tuesday while visiting South Africa.
“Twenty-five million lives have been saved, 5.5 million children have been born free of HIV/AIDS, health systems have been strengthened in a remarkable way,” he said.
Nkengasong, who comes from Cameroon, said there was once a “sense of hopelessness” in Africa, the continent worst-hit by HIV/AIDS, but since then countries’ economies have increased and life expectancy has improved.
Some 95% of the total $110 billion spent through PEPFAR was spent on Africa as it bore the brunt of the disease, he said.
“Before PEPFAR only 50,000 people, 50,000 people on the continent of Africa who were infected, were on treatment, 50,000. Today over 20 million people are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral therapy.” he said.
Nkengasong said the infrastructure rolled out across Africa as part of the U.S. government program was also useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AIDS official said he was also “very positive” about the tools in the pipeline to combat HIV, including the roll out of pre-exposure prophylactics for HIV negative people that can be injected every three months and will stop the spread of new infections.